How My First Time at the Knoxville Horror Film Fest Solidified my Status as a Horror Fan Girl
Personal Essay by Jessica Carr
I haven’t always been a fan of the horror genre. In fact, if you jump in your time machine and go back to visit middle/high school Jessica, you’ll probably see her cowering behind her hands while watching a scary movie that her friends forced her to go to. Each time a trailer for a scary movie played on my TV, I would hold the blanket up over my head to avoid being terrified. I just didn’t like being scared.
But all of that changed when I joined Cinema Club at the University of Tennessee. I started watching horror classics like Psycho and Rosemary’s Baby. I realized the vastness of the horror genre and how perhaps I never really gave it a fair chance.
Fast forward to Fall 2017. I am a budding cinephile with a growing knowledge of the horror genre. I am a huge fan of contemporary horror directors like Ana Lily Amirpour and Guillermo Del Toro. Also apparently, I might be Cinematary’s resident cannibal movie expert? (See reviews for Raw and The Bad Batch).
So when I saw the line-up for the Knoxville Horror Film Fest, I was pretty stoked. Festival Director William Mahaffey also graciously gave Cinematary two press passes so Andrew and I could attend the weekend-long festival. I was a little wary of watching horror movies all weekend long, but it would all be for the love of cinema and friendship.
The three-day festival kicked off on Friday Oct. 20 at Regal Downtown West with a 4K restoration of Dario Argento’s Suspiria. This year, 10 features were screened as well as a large number of short films. Each film block had one feature film which was usually paired with at least one short if not more.
For three days straight, I sat in a dark theater with other horror fans and I still wasn’t sure if I was one of them. Andrew and I got to see six out of the ten feature films. We saw Suspiria, Better Watch Out, Tragedy Girls, Blade of the Immortal, Spookers, and Hausu. I was really excited to see the 4K restoration of Suspiria because earlier this year I saw the film for the first time at the Belcourt in Nashville on a 35 mm print. The print was old and worn, which made most of the film have a red tint. Watching the 4K restoration was an entirely different experience. The colors of Suspiria really came to life on the big screen. Pair that with the entrancing score by Goblin and you have a monumental cinematic experience.
Speaking of monumental cinematic experiences, I also saw Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 1977 trippy film Hausu for the first time. The film closed out the festival on Sunday Oct. 22. Opening and closing with two iconic horror films was very smart festival scheduling because both films drew pretty large crowds. Watching Hausu with an almost full crowd was probably the most fun I’ve ever had at the theater. The movie is so fun and insane and trippy that you just have to laugh almost the entire time. It really made me want to eat some bananas afterward.
If I had to rank the feature films I saw at the festival, I probably wouldn’t include Suspiria or Hausu because they are iconic horror films in an entirely different league of their own. With that being said, I would probably say out of the other four films I enjoyed Tragedy Girls the most. Directed by Tyler MacIntyre, the film follows two teenage girls as they murder their way to social media stardom. The film feels a lot like Heathers mixed with Scream. It was entertaining for its entire run time. My one criticism would be that if you’re going to do a satire it needs to be tight and Tragedy Girls was lacking in that department. Otherwise, I loved the film’s tongue-in-cheek dialogue, dope lead actresses, and solid horror film references. Apparently, other festival goers felt the same way, because Tragedy Girls won the Audience Award for best feature film. It is also getting a wider release and should be playing at Regal Downtown West 8 in the near future, so you should definitely check it out.
After the three days were over, I was left with one question. Am I officially a horror fan now? Even with some of their flaws, I really loved all of the feature films I got to see at the Knoxville Horror Film Fest. They were the perfect kind of scary to me. Most were bloody, psychologically terrifying, and often quite humorous. Especially the New Zealand documentary about actors working at a haunted attraction; Spookers actually made me tear up quite a bit. Ironically, the short films were what kept me awake the night after the festival. So yeah...technically I did get a little scared, but that was easily remedied by watching several episodes of Bob’s Burgers.
What I really learned from the Knoxville Horror Film Fest is how vast the horror genre is. You can watch horror movies that have comedy, satire, psychological terror, gore, and even some martial arts elements mixed in. Horror films are able to explore many different topics, but mostly they explore fear. I am intrigued by this exploration which makes me eager to watch more and more horror films. Spending time at the festival only fueled my new found love for the genre. I’m still afraid of my own shadow sometimes, and I wouldn’t be caught dead at a haunted house, but I think I’ve officially gained horror fan girl status.
If you want to hear Andrew and I give a full recap of the festival, listen to Episode 167 of Cinematary.